Masters of the Sentence
Jared Small, Co-Founder and Director of Programming
Common Core Standards encourage educators to help their students become more effective writers across a variety of disciplines. This is a worthy and important aspiration. But few of us would expect a student to conceptualize advanced algebra before he can add. And few would ask a student to speak fluent Spanish before she acquired a certain base vocabulary. By this same logic, we do our students a disservice when we assign them to master the art of composition before we have taught them to master the art of composing a sentence.
At Peak, we specialize in teaching our students to become masters of the sentence. Our LAP Method (Learn-Apply-Practice) serves as a pedagogical bridge between the uniform expectations adopted by the Common Core, SAT, and ACT, and the less consistent commitment to teaching the fundamentals of grammar in many 21st century American classrooms. LAP encapsulates a three-phased approach to teaching grammar that enables students to become significantly more fluent writers and editors.
Learn. Both the SAT and ACT test well-defined rules of grammar that have existed for decades, even centuries. We teach our students to identify subjects, verbs, and adjectives; to recognize fundamental parts of sentences; and to understand the difference between a colon and a semi-colon, a dependent clause and an independent clause. Before our students hone in on the questions that are specific to the SAT or ACT, they learn to speak and understand the language of grammar.
Apply. Once a student acquires the requisite grammar base, she is ready to begin applying this content to exam-specific questions. Rather than following her hunch or letting her ear guide her, she reaches into her newly acquired rule-bank. Glancing at a clause that reads, “Each of the doctors have their own talents,” she is now able to recognize that the singular antecedent Each requires a singular possessive pronoun (his, her, or his or her) rather than the plural possessive pronoun their. Confronted with a clause that he may very well have heard countless times in his life—“I don’t like you talking to me like that”—he now applies the rule that the possessive form of you must precede the gerund talking. Thus, the sentence properly reads, “I don’t like your talking to me like that.” Our Director of Grammar Instruction, Terry McKeown, presents students with purposefully designed practice sets that allow students to apply these rules.
Practice. Once our students learn the rules of grammar and begin to apply these rules to SAT- or ACT-specific questions, they then have ample opportunity to practice. By completing weekly practice sets and participating in our proctored practice exam series, our students continue their journey towards becoming masters of the sentence. At the same time, they become much better equipped to engage in higher-level writing and editing.
To be clear, the Learn-Apply-Practice method is not a linear process. It is a continuous loop that requires both a diligent student and, in our case, a team of dedicated tutors. If, for example, a practice exam reveals that a student is not yet able to operationalize the rules he has learned about Subject-Verb agreement, we return to the ‘Learn’ phase to clarify the rule and to the ‘Apply’ phase to allow that rule to crystallize in the student’s mind. Once we circle back to the ‘Practice’ phase, we can again assess whether the student has mastered Subject-Verb agreement.
Ultimately, all educators want their students to read, write, and think at the highest levels. At Peak, we use the LAP method to bridge the gap between the current state of grammar education and the aspirations for literacy that we have for all our students. Not only does this methodology equip our students to ace the grammar portions of their college entrance exams, but also it gives them the confidence and skill-set to undertake more ambitious academic endeavors. As masters of the sentence, Peak students score higher and climb farther.
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